The model for our modern Thanksgiving was a celebration that happened in 1621, at the Plymouth Plantation in Massachusetts. The Wampanoag Native Americans helped the pilgrims cultivate the land and fish, saving them from starvation.
Giving and gratitude was a way of life for Native Americans, not just a special celebration of safe passage. Their generosity was not just kindness but initiation. They were inducting the mostly English settlers in a new way to be on this Earth—participating in every aspect of life as if it is sacred. Their pipe ceremony was a form of prayer like the pilgrim’s Lord’s Prayer. It portrayed and invoked the link between Earth and Heaven. Sharing the pipe invited participation in a great Truth–a Truth that cannot be frozen into human words because its origin is beyond us and because it is always in movement. Life is offered to us and always moving. The Native Americans were showing the pilgrims that we are meant to be part of a greater Whole.
Yet the pilgrims didn’t get it. They so, so, so didn’t get it. In 1764, when Thomas Hutchinson wrote his history of the colony, he explained that the already old expression “Indian gift” meant “a present for which an equivalent return is expected.” Over the years, the term became more degraded. An “India giver” was someone who gave a gift only to ask for it back. The European settlers and their descendants just could not understand that gifts are meant to keep moving because life moves. They could not understand that we are part of a sacred web of life that is a constant state of circulation, exchange, giving and receiving. They took what was meant to be received and given forward. They stopped what was meant to move. Enormous harm was done.
This Thanksgiving, if you wish, we can have an intention to begin again. With every breath, life is given. With every breath, an invitation is offered. The Buddha, who would certainly have been regarded as a brother by Native Americans, taught that “dana” or generosity was the first quality to cultivate. Generosity is opening to life and to our own deeper possibilities. Generosity arises when we are open to receive, when we are willing to step out of our isolation to participate in a larger life.
When we are open even for a few moments, we begin to see that receiving and giving are inextricably related, like breathing in and breathing out. Generosity is an antidote to fear and aversion and hatred. It is a way out of the darkness of isolation.
The prospect of coming out of isolation, of taking off our protective armor and joining the dance can feel terrifying. We may not feel safe for good reason. We may have been hurt very deeply. And/or we may have harmed others. We even may feel that we have committed crimes or trespasses (including thought crimes) that cannot be forgiven, at least not easily.
just as the pilgrims committed crimes and trespasses against those who welcomed them and gave them gifts, including the gift of life and the understanding that life is a circle.
Consider this: a Native American leader I spoke with last year told me that the early settlers were forgiven long ago. This amazed me. Slowly, I realized that those who understand generosity deeply understand that life gives forward—we are each given life, given breath, given possibilities we are invited to give on. The Truth is forward giving, forgiving. This Thanksgiving, if you wish, give yourself the gift of becoming still. Give yourself the gift of kind attention. Notice the giving and receiving in the breathing. This Thanksgiving, join us as we begin again, to notice what was missed before.
14 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Meditation”
Thank you. This is a beautiful meditation on giving and thanksgiving. However, I feel it prudent to point out that the pilgrims landed in November of 1620. On September 13th, 1621, they signed the Treaty of Mutual Protection with the Wampanoag. I did my own research into the mythological origins of Thanksgiving a few weeks ago and found the following article interesting: http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2012/11/23/what-really-happened-first-thanksgiving-wampanoag-side-tale-and-whats-done-today-145807
Whatever we imagine the first years of the pilgrims to be, whatever we imagine their relationship with the Wampanoag to have been, our images will doubtless be in error. Regardless, we can carry the Spirit of Giving and thanksgiving with us always and so honor all of our relations throughout all of time.
Thank you, Alyssa. I apologize for the typo about the date.
Thank you, Alyssa. This is a fascinating article.
1621, not 1692. (1692 was the Salem Witch Trials)
Thank you! I fixed the date. Honestly, I knew it was 1621, I don’t know why I made that typo…the devil made me do it!
First unofficial Thanksgiving was between September 21 and mid November 1621.
Thank you, I fixed the date. I don’t know why/how that happened…I knew it was 1621. Thank you for catching it.
Reblogged this on ahamkara.
I agree with the previous respondent that this is a beautiful mediation on giving and thanksgiving. But here is something I ran across recently: https://www.parentmap.com/article/a-native-american-perspective-on-the-thanksgiving-story?utm_source=bronto&utm_medium=email&utm_term=+Voice+Deconstructing+the+myth+of+the+first+Thanksgiving+How+do+we+talk+to+young+people+about+the+truth+of+the+first+Thanksgiving+and+its+troubling+legacy%3F+A+Native+American+Ph.D.+candidate+shares+his+perspective%2C+including+the+need+to+be+%22unsettled.%22+&utm_content=+Voice+Deconstructing+the+myth+of+the+first+Thanksgiving+How+do+we+talk+to+young+people+about+the+truth+of+the+first+Thanksgiving+and+its+troubling+legacy%3F+A+Native+American+Ph.D.+candidate+shares+his+perspective%2C+including+the+need+to+be+%22unsettled.%22+&utm_campaign=11-25-14+NEWS+final+send
I searched online and there are many different accounts on what happened with the Pequot. As beautiful as the purpose behind this article is, I think we should stop perpetuating the Thanksgiving feast myth. Thank you.
Thank you for this for this info. I think we should reclaim and rededicate Thanksgiving–maybe repurpose is the word. We can begin again in a new way. This was my intention in this post.
A pagan myth relates Thanksgiving to the Sun. After being close to Earth all Summer, just before they must separate, the Sun reveals to Earth His gift, which is Earth now in Her greatest state of fullness and beauty; thus to ensure Earth and Her creatures survive His absence. The tangible harvest contains the promise of the Sun’s return.
Thank you for this, Brent. The Sun gives the Earth the gift of seeing her beauty. Haunting.
Most welcome TC. Earth is first Mother to pagans; when unable to feed Her children, seeing beauty must mean little to Her. In soaking up the Sun’s light, harvest arrives in heavy fullness. Earth is then most like the Sun, for pagans the Giver; so most in Her highest element, giver.